English has been called the lingua franca of today’s world. “Hi,” “bye” and “thank you” are known around the world and English is part of the curriculum for young students. In France, a debate is underway about teaching courses in French universities in English; the proposal has generated quite an uproar out of fears that French could be marginalized in its own country.
Though English is used so widely, there are still many reasons for native speakers of English (among which I count myself) to learn a foreign language. If you’re looking for a summer project, learning a new language — even just the basics! — is one to consider.
1. Learning a language is good for your brain.
Scientists have found a link between speaking more than one language and the prevention of Alzheimer’s. Earlier research had found that those who have been bilingual since childhood have improved executive functioning — the “higher order” thinking involved in making decisions — as they age. Bilingual seniors have, it was found, an enhanced ability for switching attention, a skill that often wanes with age.
Other research has found that learning a language at an accelerated rate can help some parts of the brain to grow. While it is the case that children have an easier time learning new languages, adults’ brains can be “re-wired” from intense foreign language study. It’s never too late to try to learn.
2. The Internet and computers offer many great tools for learning a foreign language.
Websites and software programs abound that can instruct you in the basics of a language. If you’re not inclined to learn everything about conjugating the verb “to be” in Spanish or Greek, you can also find offers plenty of resources such as lists of commonly used phrases for travelers. While I used to have to search out bookstores that sold newspapers and books in foreign languages, these are now readily available on the Internet.
3. People around the world are learning English, but understanding varies.
Yes, English is taught around the world, with many students in China and elsewhere starting to study it in their elementary years, but a non-native speaker’s grasp of the language varies. American universities have been eager to recruit and enroll students from China, many of whom can pay to attend. But quite a few lack skills in speaking and comprehension. A company that advises American universities and colleges about China found that only 18 percent of Chinese students who can afford tuition at U.S. schools have advanced linguistic skills.
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